Monday, November 23, 2009

John Seiberling, abortion, then and now

IN WHAT SEEMS to be centuries ago, the late Rep. John Seiberling of Akron leaned over to me in his election night headquarters and in a dry matter-0f-fact wisp of a voice said: "So much for abortion." He had just glided through another successful congressional campaign with a landslide over an anti-abortion candidate. He wasn't boasting. There was no sneer in his tone. He just wanted to point out that his constituents were assessing a quality about him as their representative that was more important than his liberal views on abortion rights. A former corporate lawyer with a corporate family name, Seiberling's political career enjoyed a deep public trust. (After a Barberton Labor Day parade, a woman cheered when he approached the microphone at Lake Anna and exclaimed to me: "I don't agree with his position on gun control, but I still like him."

Today, I would have to disagree with Seiberling: the abortion issue is more alive than ever, overriding the health reform debate, sending threats to those congressmen who supported it to punish them at the polls.

And today comes word that U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was told by his Catholic bishop that he was not eligible for communion because he was pro-choice. That sort of threat has happened to others, including then-presidential candidate John Kerry. A former Notre Dame football player sat across the table and explained to me that although he had great respect for Kerry, he couldn't vote for him because of abortion. An engaging Akron priest told me in his office that he had marched in protest against the Viewnam war, but abortion was in no way open to discussion. For some, the line of demarcation cannot be crossed. etc. etc.etc.

By the way, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence says he didn't really instruct priests to not give communion to the congressman, but rather he only requested that the priest deny it to Kennedy. You know how that works.

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